5 Best Squat Mobility Drills

5 Best Squat Mobility Drills

5 BEST Squat Mobility Drills

We hear it all the time: “I’m not mobile enough to squat to parallel.” A lot of these same people then stop squatting altogether to focus on mobility work.

But guess what? With proper coaching and tweaking of your squat stance, many of these people are able to squat without the need for any mobility drills or exercises. And if solid coaching and tweaking of your squat stance does not change anything, then you still do not need to totally stop squatting altogether! If, however, you have pinching or pain when squatting and you cannot find a pain-free squat stance or a regression/lateralization of the squat exercise, then maybe you should stop squatting. For now.

So for those who have pain or pinching in the hip, what should they do?

This is where mobility work should be implemented. Not just any mobility work, but mobility work specific to the individual. This is why we always recommend getting your movement and joints assessed by a qualified healthcare practitioner…. So you are not just guessing what your mobility limitation is.

The 3 biggest things that we commonly see restricting squat depth and may contribute to pain/pinching while squatting are:

  1. Hip internal & external rotation mobility
    2. Ankle dorsiflexion mobility
    3. Adductor mobility

The five drills below help improve the mobility of the above three restrictions and can help improve your squat depth and may even fix your pain/pinching while squatting.

5 BEST Squat Mobility Drills:

1. 90-90 Hip Internal Rotation Stretch

Lack of hip internal rotation can limit squat depth and can definitely be correlated with hip pinching in the front/anterior part of your hip. If you have been working on hip internal rotation mobility without much luck, check out this video for solid tips or how to truly improve your hip internal rotation mobility for good.

PRO TIP: If you feel any sort of pinching in the anterior/inner hip area, then you need to change of your torso/hip/leg positioning. You should only feel a deep stretch in the musculature/hip capsule on the outer portion of your hip. The game-changer with this stretch is that it is an active mobility drill.

2. 90-90 Hip External Rotation Stretch

Lack of hip external rotation can also limit squat depth. If you tend to feel a large tightness/stretch sensation in your posterior hip/gluteal region at the bottom position of your squat, then this may be the exercise for you.

PRO TIP: Make sure you are not rounding through your spine when performing this stretch. Your spine should stay long. Think about reaching your chest upwards and forwards, while pushing your front hip backwards at the same time. Again, the game-changer with this stretch is that it is an active mobility drill.

3. Ankle Dorsiflexion Banded Mobilization with Isometric Contractions

If you do not have adequate ankle mobility, then this can definitely contribute to squat depth issues. And you best believe it is a common cause of anterior hip pinching at the bottom of the squat.

While there are plenty of ankle mobility exercises out there, this one combines them all together. You definitely do not have to do all parts of this exercise, but if you at least want to work on your ankle mobility via stretching your gastroc/soleus/achilles tendon, then perform just the active version of the calf stretch. Again, the game-changer is that this mobility drill is active.

PRO TIP: Keep your heel on the ground at all times during this stretch. Also, make sure your knee tracks over your second toe; do not let your knee cave inwards.

4. Adductor Rock Back Mobilization

Tight adductors are another common cause of squat depth issues and can also contribute to hip pain while squatting. If you have a lack of adductor extensibility/mobility, then your knees may be collapsing into excessive valgus and your lower back may even be dumping into flexion (the dreaded “butt wink”).

PRO TIP: Make sure your lower back stays flat/neutral throughout this mobilization. This position/exercise works on mobilizing the adductor muscles, but also improves lumbopelvic motor control.

5. Goblet Squat Prying

If you want to get better at squatting and improving the bottom position of your squat, then guess what? You need to spend time down there! The kettlebell (or dumbbell) goblet squat is a fantastic way to do this as it provides you with a counterbalance to keep your chest upright. Hold your squat at the bottom position only as long as you are able to maintain solid form. From here, you can add in adductor prying and hip internal and external rotation movements to loosen up the hips.

PRO TIP: Only squat down to your current pain-free depth in which you are able to maintain the natural lordotic/neutral curvature of your lumbar spine.

And there you have it! Our 5 BEST squat mobility drills to improve your squat depth and eliminate pinching in your anterior hip.

If you are still having issues with your squat depth or hip pain/pinching, you should optimize your squat stance. Remember, everyone has different hip anatomy and therefore, everyone should squat slightly different. And if changing up your squat stance does not seem to help, your best bet is to find a qualified healthcare practitioner who understands movement and strength training to help you and provide you with a thorough orthopedic/movement assessment.

Ankle CARs

Ankle CARs

Ankle Joint Circles (CARS)

Ankle joint circles, or controlled articular rotations (CARS), are an amazing way to maintain our joint health and longevity. They can also preserve our joints’ ranges of motion.

If you have a known mobility restriction, while CARS may clear up the restriction in the long-term, it is best to perform a specific stretch or exercise for the known restriction (see below).

If you do not have a mobility restriction, then these ankle joint circles are an amazing movement tool to utilize to maintain your current ranges of motion and provide your brain with plenty of afferent feedback.

If you want to learn more about the science of joint circles (CARS) and why you should be doing them, download our Daily Movement Routine below!

Most Common Ankle Mobility Restriction

The most common mobility restriction at the ankle is ankle dorsiflexion. To assess if you have limited ankle dorsiflexion, perform our self-assessment here. If you had a joint-pinching sensation at the front of your ankle during the test, try this ankle joint banded mobilization. If you did not have a pinching sensation, but had a lack of range of motion, try these exercises:

ANkle cars video:

Ankle Lift-Offs

Ankle Lift-Offs

Ankle Mobility: A Brief Overview

In a previous post, we covered a self-guided assessment to see if you have adequate ankle mobility. If you have yet to watch that video or read about the assessment, you can do that here.

Ankle lift-offs are a great exercise if you are lacking range of motion OR if you have adequate PASSIVE ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, but have limited ACTIVE ankle dorsiflexion range of motion.

Ankle Lift-Offs

Get into a half-kneeling/lunge position and drive your front knee forwards, dorsiflexing your ankle. Find a decent stretch in that leg’s calf musculature, being sure to keep your heel on the ground. From this position, use all of the muscles on the front of your shin and contract them as hard as you can. Try to maintain this angle at the ankle! While maintaining this angle, rock your body backwards until your toes start to lift-off of the ground. You should really feel the muscles on the front of your shin working. Rep this out for a few sets of 15-20 reps. Repeat on the opposite ankle if needed.

Many of you will notice when you rock your body backwards that the angle at your ankle will increase. This increase in the angle shows that you do not have control and strength over your ankle dorsiflexion end-range of motion. This exercise will help strengthen that end-range of motion so you can own that range.

Eccentric Calf Lowering

Eccentric Calf Lowering

Ankle Mobility: A Brief Overview

In a previous post, we covered a self-guided assessment to see if you have adequate ankle mobility. If you have yet to watch that video or read about the assessment, you can do that here.

In the video below, we cover a strengthening exercise to eccentrically lengthen the calf musculature, the eccentric calf lowering drill. This exercise is an amazing way to increase your ankle mobility through strength training. But for those of you that like to read, we will also explain via this blog post as well.

If you did not have a joint-pinching sensation in the ankle self-assessment, but were unable to achieve 3-5 inches, OR you had significant stretching in the back of your calves, then you would benefit from this eccentric ankle mobility strengthening exercise.

Eccentric Calf Lowering

Eccentric is a fancy term to describe the action of a muscle actively lengthening. Eccentrics are shown by research to be one of the best ways to gain strength. It is also shown to do the most muscular damage on a microscopic level. But do not worry, this muscular damage allows for a positive adaptation and increase in muscular strength and length.

Essentially, the purpose of this eccentric calf lowering exercise is to build strength AND mobility in your entire range of motion. And to expand that range of motion by actively using your antagonist muscles. Read below to further understand the exercises.

Start with your toes on a object that is elevated a few inches off of the ground. Perform a typical calf raise using your gastrocnemius muscle. Once at the top, slowly and controllably lower your heel to be parallel to the ground. Once that foot becomes parallel to the ground, actively use the muscles on the front of your shin to pull your knee forwards as far as you can. Next, straighten your knee and perform another calf raise. Repeat this slowly for 15-20 repetitions. Repeat on both legs if necessary.

Ankle Mobility Foam Rolling

Ankle Mobility Foam Rolling

Ankle Joint Mobility: Soft Tissue Work

In a previous post, we covered a self-guided assessment to see if you have adequate ankle mobility. If you have yet to watch that video or read about the assessment, you can do that here.

In the video below, we cover soft-tissue mobilization of the posterior calf musculature. But for those of you that like to read, we will also explain via text as well.

If you did not have a joint-pinching sensation in the ankle self-assessment, but were unable to achieve 3-5 inches, OR you had significant stretching in the back of your calves, then you would benefit from theses soft-tissue mobilizations described below.

Foam Rolling & Soft-Tissue Work Explained

When doing any foam rolling or soft-tissue work, it is important to realize the purpose. The purpose of foam rolling, lacrosse ball smashing, and mobility stick rolling, is not to break up scar tissue or adhesions. Rather, the purpose is for relaxation via the nervous system. The sensations provided by these techniques is interpreted by the brain and the brain sends out signals back to the muscles, telling the muscles to relax. Knowing this, it is important to dose these techniques properly. The minimal effective dosage for foam rolling, and soft-tissue work like this is around 30-60 seconds. Anything more, you are likely wasting your time or solely doing it for please (which is fine if you have the time).

Be sure to use these techniques along your entire calve muscles on the back side of your leg. You can even perform on the sides of your legs if you like. Make sure to include your Achilles tendon as well.

Remember, it is best to implement an active strategy after performing these soft-tissue mobilizations. We want to gain strength AND control in these newly gained ranges of motion. And this is done through active strengthening!

Here are a few great ways to incorporate strengthening into your newly acquired ranges of motion:

1) Ankle PAILs / RAILs

2) Eccentric Calf Lowering

Ankle PAILs / RAILs

Ankle PAILs / RAILs

Ankle Mobility: A Brief Overview

In a previous post, we covered a self-guided assessment to see if you have adequate ankle mobility. If you have yet to watch that video or read about the assessment, you can do that here.

In the video below, we cover ankle mobility stretches in more detail, specifically ankle PAILS RAILS But for those of you that like to read, we will also explain the stretches via text.

If you did not have a joint-pinching sensation in the ankle self-assessment, but were unable to achieve 3-5 inches, OR you had significant stretching in the back of your calves, then you would benefit from theses stretches described below.

Ankle PAILS RAILS

PAILs and RAILs are fancy acronyms to describe isometric loading (strengthening) at varying angles. More specifically, PAILs stands for progressive angular isometric loading. RAILs stands for regressive angular isometric loading. The terms progressive and regressive just determine which of the tissues you are targeting. The progressive tissues are the tissues placed on stretch, and the regressive tissues are the tissues contracting on the closing side of a joint.

Terminology aside, PAILs and RAILs is just an active form of stretching. It is important to perform active stretching/strengthening for a few reasons:

1) You build strength in your new ranges of motion,

2) It tells your brain that it is safe to move in these new ranges, and

3) You are able to maintain these new ranges for the long-term.

Mobility Exercises Explained

Runner’s Stretch PAILS RAILS

This stretch is often performed passively without any isometric contraction. To make it an active stretch follow these instructions.

Standing with one of your foot’s toes on the wall and your leg straight (knee locked out), find a moderate stretch in your calf muscles. Hold this stretch passively for about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, start to push your toes into the wall isometrically, working up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the PAILs portion). Next, start to pull your toes towards your shin while also pulling your knee towards the wall isometrically. Work up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the RAILs portion). Slowly start to relax and sink into more of a stretch in your calf for 30 seconds and then repeat the PAILs/RAILs contractions once more.

This stretch focused on your gastrocnemius since your gastrocnemius crossed the knee and inserts into the lower part of your femur.

Half-Kneeling Ankle PAILS RAILS

The soleus is often stretched in a very similar position as the typical runner’s stretch described above, but with a bent knee. It is performed with a bent knee because the soleus does not cross the knee and this allows a more specific stretch. However, this half-kneeling soleus stretch allows for more rigorous isometric contractions.

In a half-kneeling position with your foot flat on the ground, find a decent stretch in your calf muscles. Hold this stretch passively for about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, start to push your toes into the ground isometrically, working up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the PAILs portion). Next, start to pull your toes towards your shin while also pulling your knee towards your toes isometrically. Work up to 100% of your maximal contraction over 20 seconds (that was the RAILs portion). Slowly start to relax and sink into more of a stretch in your calf for 30 seconds and then repeat the PAILs/RAILs contractions once more.

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